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David McTaggart 1932 - 2001

Background - 20 November, 2006

David McTaggart

David McTaggart was among the chief contributors to the creation of the environmentalist group Greenpeace. He was the organisation's chief spokesman and chairman of Greenpeace International from 1979 until 1991. The Canadian businessman had become involved with the issue of French atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in New Zealand in 1971, and his life was tied to environmental issues from then on.

McTaggart was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 24, 1932. As a youth he was an outstanding athlete whose interests included skiing, tennis, squash, and golf. He won the Canadian National Badminton championship in the singles division three years running.

McTaggart worked in the construction business for twenty years, moving to the United States in the 1960s where he became a successful contractor and developer. When an explosion destroyed a resort lodge built by his firm, seriously injuring an employee, the deeply affected McTaggart left the business and went into semi-retirement, sailing for pleasure in the Pacific. In 1972 he became outraged with the French Government's decision to cordon off a vast swath of international waters in order to conduct their nuclear testing program in the Pacific. He renamed his 12.6 meter sailing craft "Greenpeace III" and sailed to the zone surrounding Moruroa Atoll. McTaggart observed international law in establishing his anchor position, but ignored the French Government's unilateral declaration of the area as a forbidden zone. The presence of his boat, at a position downwind from the planned blast, forced the French government to halt its test. A French Navy vessel eventually rammed the boat to end the embarrassing situation. McTaggart repaired his boat and returned a year later. He was physically beaten by French military personnel, who denied the charge, claiming that McTaggart's ship had already left the area. One of McTaggart's crew had photographed the beating, however, and the film, which was smuggled out of French custody with the crewmember, proved the French had been lying. The photographs were widely published, and the story drew further criticism to the French nuclear testing program.

McTaggart entered into lengthy litigation against the French. In 1974 he won part of his case, a landmark decision in which the French courts sided against the French government. That same year, the French announced that they would end their atmospheric nuclear testing program.

In 1977 McTaggart began organising new support throughout Europe for Greenpeace, by then established in nine countries. In 1979 he forged an international alliance between separate factions of the organisation and united them under his chairmanship as Greenpeace International.

Between 1975 and 1991, McTaggart was a driving force behind Greenpeace campaigns to save the whales, stop the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean, block the production of toxic wastes, end nuclear testing, and protect the Antarctic continent from oil and mineral exploitation. Over the length of his career he published numerous articles and two books. Awards for his contributions to environmentalism world-wide include the Onassis Award, The Kreisky Prize, and the United Nations Environmental Programme's Global 500 Award.

In September of 1991, McTaggart retired from active chairmanship of Greenpeace International to a farm in Italy, where he raised organic olive oil and continued to work on whaling and other issues through The Third Millennium Foundation, which carries on his work today. 

Mr. McTaggart died in an auto accident on March 23, 2001 near his home in Italy.